Mr. Derrek Konrad (Prince Albert, Canadian Alliance)
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to speak to Bill C-14, the Manitoba claim settlements implementation act. I was in Manitoba when the dams were being built. I was a surveyor and flew many miles over that country in a helicopter on my way to and from work. It is an interesting country and it was an interesting job.
Many aboriginal people in that area were deprived of some pretty nice land, particularly along the river. It is good land, but farther back it contains a lot of muskeg, so the land they lost was among the best. This bill will bring some finality to the issue and will put some money in their pockets so that they can get on with their lives. It is important. Not only is it some money, it is some land to make up for what they lost. It is land of equal value. I see from the bill that it will take about four times as much land to equal the value of what they did lose.
There were many questions raised by many people about the process used to get approval for the flood agreement. Most of those questions were never adequately answered. They were not answered in the community or in committee. It seemed to me that the Liberals spent a lot of time trying to hush up the issue and hurry this bill through. They spent a lot more time on procedural matters and objections to the list of witnesses that many of us in the official opposition and other opposition parties wanted to hear from.
We had more correspondence on this than anything I have seen since I came to the House. Members of the committee received a binder that is probably four inches thick and is filled with letters, briefs and presentations that have been made on this issue over the years. In the length of time we had to look at this bill, it was impossible to do a proper assessment and analysis of the entire situation. Also, the people most affected by this legislation were never really heard from when it was brought to parliament. That is not right.
The first agreement that was signed was so loose and open-ended that it gave rise to absolutely every kind of interpretation. It was not capable of being implemented due to its open-ended nature. Simply to bring some closure to the matter, the government trampled on the rights of a lot of people and overlooked due process.
People should not be deprived of their land without due process, and once deprived through legislative means they need to be adequately compensated. Those rights are available to all Canadians under expropriation acts, whether provincial or municipal. Certainly that right has to be there as well for Canada's aboriginals. They simply cannot be deprived of land and rights just because it happens to suit the political agenda of the party in power at the time. We are not overly happy about many of these things.
We notice the insertion of the word right. I am not sure, given recent court decisions, that the insertion of this word adds anything or that leaving it out will detract from anything. To that extent I agree with my colleague from Churchill. She had it about right there. The courts seem to be playing more and more of a role. It seems the Canadian public, the Canadian government and the Canadian taxpayer are being governed by our courts, much more than by the people who were elected, not appointed, to make the laws. We need to look after that.
Some of the questions I have about the transfer of land in fee simple to the band concern private ownership. Let us remember the bill has two parts. There is also a treaty land entitlement part to the bill. I and my colleagues doubt that any individuals will be able to exercise private property rights over any of that land. It will have to be always dealt with in common.
People who have appeared before our committee have said the lack of private property rights by natives over aboriginal land is one of the biggest barriers to economic development for those people, not just as a group but as individuals. The head of the First Nations Bank is one of those people. The head of the Business Development Bank of Canada is another individual who believes there need to be private property rights for individuals to make any headway in society, and that the communal style of owning property, which means lending institutions have no way to take collateral, is one of the biggest drawbacks to economic development for aboriginals.
These things were never addressed in the legislation. The government had an opportunity to get to work on these types of things.
The treaty land entitlement process does make up for shortfalls in Indian reserves that were established and surveyed at the times the treaties were signed, and it is a fairly generous settlement at that. Individuals will not benefit from it; simply bands will benefit. Many times that means the leadership gets most of the benefit, not the band members.
I have had aboriginal people come to my office in the riding of Prince Albert, I have had people telephone me at home, and I have had people contacting me by phone, letter, e-mail, fax, or whatever in my office in Ottawa, saying they want to be able to exercise private property rights. They would love to get a square mile of land somewhere, anywhere, maybe with some lumber on it so that they could do some logging, build a home, start to farm, or something like that.
Can they do that under the bill? Nothing doing. They are absolutely kept out of the mainstream of the Canadian economy because of legislation such as this and attitudes such as those on the other side, which deny Indian people the same rights that are available to every person in the House.
There needs to be a process to allow native people to take possession of their hopes. I recently spoke to a man on a reserve who had been given six months to get off the reserve and out of the house he lived in. He had been married to an Indian woman. The band said “We need this house for band members. You are not a band member”. His wife had just died and he got a letter from the band saying “You are out of here”. Is that the way to treat Canadians, aboriginal or otherwise? I do not think so.
The lack of rights available to people living on reserve is a scandal and needs to be addressed. While the bill does some good things locally for the people in making redress for land taken from them, it is a far cry from the kind of legislation we need to introduce to ensure that aboriginal women have the protections they need.
I am sure that woman would not have been happy to know her husband was told “You are out of here”. Fortunately he had daughters who were willing to look after him and took him in, but here was a man who was capable of living independently. He was not that old. He was forced to live with his children or else leave his home and his friends. That just does not work.
Under the legislation the federal government will fund Indian bands to undertake land selection studies. In Saskatchewan, where the treaty land entitlement process has been in business for some time, too many bands have been spending too much money doing studies and not enough buying. If any farmer were to spend that kind of money on studies, he long since would have been into bankruptcy, out of business, and working for a living.
There needs to be some accountability for the money that is transferred and held for these people. Certainly we will be watching that. I am sure we will be taking phone calls on that same issue over the years. We intend to form the government, and we will be making certain that this money is well spent on behalf of Canada's Indian people.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act